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10 Oct, 2005

Key Future Issues Flagged at Peace Through Tourism Summit

PATTAYA — Comments made last week at the Third Global Summit on Peace through Tourism here last week indicate the kind of issues set to emerge in the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) industry as it confronts the challenges of high security and changing geopolitical realities.

Executive Director of the Hong Kong Hotels Association James Lu said that his members were advising guests to stay away during the period of the World Trade Organization 6 th ministerial conference from 13 to 18 December 2005.

Mr Uzi Yalon, Honorary President of Skal International, a global travel industry fraternity that claims on its website to be ‘non-political’, said international organisations “should not give a helping hand” for events in countries that deny entry to citizens of other countries.

Both these comments may well provide food for thought in the proceedings of the 13th IT&CMA (Incentive Travel & Conventions, Meetings Asia) and the 8th CTW (Corporate Travel World Asia-Pacific) in Pattaya this week.

Mr Lu said the Hong Kong government had offered to host the WTO ministerial conference “when no other government wanted it.”

Because guest safety is an hotelier’s paramount responsibility, “we are turning away guests” during this period.

“Our government says we should be promoting tourism to welcome the ministerial summit. They even have a website with a countdown of the number of days (to the summit). And we told our government, ‘you created this mess and we are going to tell you that we are going to turn away guests.’ Because when you have a situation like this, you have people, activists, rioting on the streets, you don’t want to have too many people in your hotel, right?”

He said Hong Kong hotels have covered themselves “very heavily” with all forms of insurance and are also “prepared to close our hotels at any minute” should the situation warrant.

“We saw what happened (at previous WTO ministerial summits and G-7 meetings) in Edinburgh, in Cancun, in Seattle. Those people are armed thugs, and there are 10,000 of them. I hope that by the time this is over, there will still be Hong Kong on the map.”

Speaking in his capacity as Asia-Pacific representative of the International Hotels and Restaurants Association, Mr Lu likened the situation to the 2003 SARS scare when Hong Kong hoteliers were advising guests to stay away “because we were an affected area.”

He noted that safety and security had become top issues of concern for global hoteliers.

Citing terrorism, the key thing is not to allow terrorists to know that they have succeeded in disrupting people’s lives. He said the industry should learn to treat these incidents like “traffic accidents” after which the place is cleared up and life goes back to normal.

However, he criticised the travel advisories that follow, saying, “We hate travel advisories because they are basically telling people to leave the victims, the countries that have been affected, alone and let them bleed.”

Mr Lu’s comments were followed by those of Mr Yalon who said that instead of staying away from terrorism- and disaster-hit destinations, “international organisations should hold their international and regional congresses” there.

He said, “In our immediate area (the Middle East), Skal International is very active in encouraging connections among the members and chapters that have frictions of different kinds, in order to smooth relations and facilitate business relations among the members.

“Skal Israel was instrumental in the installation of our Bethlehem chapter. In Jerusalem we have two chapters, the East Jerusalem one, which is connected to Jordan and the West Jerusalem one, which is connected to Israel. The two boards meet occasionally in the purpose of creating mutual events.

“Last Thursday we had inaugurated an integrated chapter under the name Red Sea Bay. This chapter comprise of members from North Sinai (Egypt), Aqaba (Jordan) and Eilat (Israel). It is a unique example for co-operation of people from three countries that were not so friendly sometime ago.

“This is going to be a model to our organisation. I’m sure that it will contribute to the understanding among the members and will ease the co-operation in campaigns to bring more tourists to the entire area.

“These kind of activities should be dealt similarly in organisations that have members from different origins and under some frictions among themselves, for co-operation will help normalisation, defusion of tensions and will create public opinion for peace and against terror.

International organisations should be involved in dialogues, dialogues between nations and dialogues between groups and individuals.

“Most important is that all international organisations of all kinds should not co-operate with countries which are discriminating against some members of the organisations. Our organisations should not give a helping hand for arranging international meeting of any kind where the hosting country is denying entry to all the members from all the countries to participate in the meeting.

“If this will be applied by many international organisations it will help for changing the attitude by the authorities and changing the atmosphere for more tolerance,” Mr Yalon said.

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